Russia denies U.S. claim it told Venezuela's Maduro not to flee

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia on Wednesday rejected a U.S. allegation it had persuaded Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro not to flee the country the previous day, calling the assertion a calculated attempt to demoralise the army and escalate the crisis there.

FILE PHOTO: Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro speaks next to Venezuela's National Constituent Assembly President Diosdado Cabello, Venezuela's Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino Lopez and Remigio Ceballos Strategic Operational Commander of the Bolivarian National Armed Forces, during a broadcast at Miraflores Palace in Caracas, Venezuela April 30, 2019. Miraflores Palace/Handout via REUTERS

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told broadcaster CNN on Tuesday that Maduro was prepared to leave the country that morning in the face of a call for an uprising by opposition leader Juan Guaido, but reversed his plan after Russia intervened.

Pompeo suggested Maduro had been planning to fly to Cuba, which Maduro himself has since dismissed.

Russia, which has acted as a lender of last resort to Venezuela and supplied it with weapons, has accused the United States of trying to foment a coup against Maduro, someone Moscow counts as one of its closest allies in Latin America.

Asked to comment on Pompeo’s comments, foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said they were part of an “information war”.

“This was absolute disinformation and fake news,” she said. Washington realised that the army’s continued support was crucial for Maduro which was why it was focusing its efforts on trying to sow doubt in it ranks, she added.

Venezuelans were expected to take to the streets on Wednesday, a day after Guaido called for the military to oust Maduro.

Zakharova said the United States had in the past waged a similar disinformation campaign about Syrian President Bashar-al Assad, another close Russian ally, which had flopped.

Russia has accused Venezuela’s opposition of resorting to violence, and President Vladimir Putin discussed the situation there with his Security Council on Tuesday.

Russia has sent nearly 100 military personnel to Caracas, a contingent the Kremlin has described as military specialists.

Pompeo was scheduled to discuss Venezuela with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov later on Wednesday, White House national security adviser John Bolton said.

“This is our hemisphere,” Bolton told reporters. “It’s not where the Russians ought to be interfering.”

Editing by John Stonestreet